The four men are accused of organizing mass violence following the disputed presidential elections of Dec. 27, 2007, in which President Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner. Senior leaders of both main parties, the president’s Party of National Unity and the opposition Orange Democratic Movement, are accused of stirring up ethnic violence for political advantage and retribution. At least 1,200 people were killed and 600,000 displaced from their homes.
Human rights activists and observers hailed the decision.
“From the perspective of transparency, the court is seen to be acting in an open way, which is something that Kenyans are not familiar with,” says Comfort Ero, director of the Nairobi office of the International Crisis Group, which issued a report ahead of the ICC decision. “Given how volatile the Kenyan political environment can be, and given the history of questionable judicial processes in the past, I think for Kenyans to see these alleged perpetrators of violence to face justice in a process that is free of interference is a powerful thing.”
Today’s decision was watched closely by Kenyans, and police prepared for a potential violent reaction in towns where violence had occurred.
Two of the accused, Mr. Ruto and Mr. Kenyatta, have declared their intentions to run for president in the 2013 elections, and the newly written Kenyan constitution is ambiguous on whether those facing criminal charges can run for public office. But at a time when Kenyans appear to have turned against their own politicians – many of whom lobbied hard against the new constitution during a referendum – and seem to put more trust in the International Criminal Court process than their own courts, today’s ICC decision presents Kenyan voters with a chance to change the political culture of their country.